- from 'The War Illustrated Deluxe' vol.IV page 1242
- 'The Grand Duke Nicholas'
Personalia of the Great War
- left : a hand-colored portrait of a more youthful Grand Duke prior to the war
- right : the Grand Duke (seated at right) and Czar during the Great War
Before the war the world outside Russia heard little of the Grand Duke Nicholas. For a year and a month from the outbreak of hostilities it was seldom that one's daily paper did not contain mention of his name. But even then he remained, if one of the most talked of, still probably the least known to English-speaking folk of all the great captains in the field. For a long time, however, he had been the idol of the Russian Army, and the implacable Nemesis of official corruption and official inefficiency.
A Soldier of Severely Spartan Habit
Nicholas Nicholaievitch was born at Petrograd on November 6th, 1856 (O.S.), son of the grand duke of the same name who was brother of Tsar Alexander II. He could thus claim second cousinship with Tsar Nicholas II. Of outstanding stature, reported once to be the strongest man in all the Russias, he was none the less conspicuous for his severely Spartan mode of life. His principal drinks were plain water and tea; his main diet on active service differed but little from that of the humblest soldier under his command. Spare in comparison with his great height - six feet seven inches - with form erect, eyes coldly blue, and pointed beard streaked with white, in his cavalry uniform he dominated every assembly at which he was present. He was the most conspicuous figure in the field, at Court, or in the salon. There are even those who declare that he dominated the Tsar himself; and the famous proclamation to the people of Russian Poland is said to have been issued at his instigation.
Nicholas Nicholaievitch, who had a preference for cavalry, saw active service first with his father in the Russo-Turkish War of the 'Seventies. In the Russo-Japanese War he took no part. But with infinite patience and cool, but purposeful enthusiasm, he threw himself heart and soul, with General Sukhomlinoff, into the colossal task of reorganising the Russian land forces which that campaign showed to be necessary. The Great War came too soon for the task to be quite completed.
When suddenly called upon, on August 3rd, 1914, to the supreme command of all Russia's land and sea forces, until such time as the Tsar himself should deem it expedient to assume control, the Grand Duke was Military Governor and Director of Conscription for Petrograd. To this position were allied several others - President of the Council of National Defence, Chief of the Lithuanian Regiment of the Guard, Chief of the 56th Jitomir Regiment of Infantry, Member of the Nicholas Staff College, and Inspector-General of Cavalry. He was Chief of the Russian Order of St. Andrew, and to the orders of the Annunziata (Italy), Black Eagle (Prussia), and Elephant (Denmark) was added during the war the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. It may be added here that in 1907 he was married to a princess of Montenegro.
The Driving Force Behind the Russian Successes
No one man in the short space of thirteen months, from August, 1914, to September, 1915, made history at a more rapid rate than the Grand Duke Nicholas. The driving force behind all those early Russian successes, from those in East Prussia to those on the peaks of the Carpathians, successes which meant so much to the forces under Joffre and French in France and Flanders, was the indomitable will of Russia's Iron Duke. And the power that stayed Russian courage and prompted so grand a display of Muscovite heroism in the fighting retreat before the gigantic onsets of Mackensen's Grand Phalanx-a retreat for comparison with which one may search the files of history in vain-was derived in no small degree from the great silent soldier whose tireless activities were felt all along the serried lines from Riga to the Dniester, and whose normal headquarters were in a railway train. No point in that long line was threatened with more than ordinary Prussian violence without the Grand Duke being found there. No man was ever more part of the army he commanded.
During the operations in the dismal swampy region of the Masurian Lakes, when the temperature for long periods at a stretch averaged forty degrees below zero, he slept each night in an ordinary bell-tent, wrapped in a couple of blankets.
For years the great army of Slavdom had been under his stern but fostering, severe but fatherly, care. He had mixed with the men. He knew their needs, and he had seen that these were met, that the men were properly fed and fitly clothed.
He issued regulations in peace-time which promoted initiative and healthy rivalry in the ranks. He instituted gymnastics and outdoor sports, and made many other innovations calculated to raise the normal code of honour among the troops and discountenance practices and pastimes that sapped the strength of the body and debilitated and befogged the mind. In him the fraudulent contractor found an implacable foe. "Whoever steals, I hang," were his memorable words on one occasion. To the too easygoing officer he was "the Russian Kitchener" in word and deed.
History has yet to record how the Grand Duke's plans were marred in the early days of the war by the German influences in Russia, by the unprecedented call for munitions, and the no less unparalleled drain on the resources of the Red Cross organisation. Through all he himself kept, and kept his devoted troops, grimly at the tasks before them. In regard to the Red Cross, no one knew better than he after what heroic mould his countrywomen in the main were fashioned. But in Russia, as elsewhere, there was an amount of ineffective feminine effusiveness that was all on the surface. At a moment when nurses were sorely needed he assembled a number of volunteers and asked those who "preferred to nurse officers" to step on one side, and those who were willing to go into the wards where private soldiers were placed to cross to the other side of the room. The former were sent home and the latter's offer of service accepted.
German Influence Against Him
Such a man could not but make enemies; and it is a fairly open secret that not once but several times was German influence at work to remove the Grand Duke from his high office by violence.
On Sunday, September 5th, an imperial army order issued in St. Petersburg announced that the Tsar himself had assumed supreme command of his Army and Navy, and that the Grand Duke Nicholas had been appointed Viceroy of the Caucasus and given the command of the Caucasian Army, replacing in that command the veteran Count Vorontzeff, Daskoff, to whose far-seeing initiative was chiefly due the adherence of the Armenians in the Caucasus to the Russian cause and the failure of anti-Russian agitators to divert the allegiance of the Tsar's Mohammedan subjects. It was felt that the Grand Duke's new post was to be no sinecure. Of Russia's interests on her Asiatic front little had been heard. But they were not inconsiderable. A crisis was anticipated there, and to meet it the Grand Duke took with him as his Chief of Staff General Yanouchevitch. For a time he disappeared completely from the public eye. But before going he issued the following farewell order to the valiant Army and Fleet: "To-day our august chief, his Majesty the Emperor, has put himself at your head. I appreciate deeply your heroism during the period of over a year. I express to you my cordial and sincere gratitude. I firmly believe that as the Tsar himself, to whom you have sworn allegiance, is leading you, you will perform fresh exploits. I am convinced that God will grant to His elect His almighty help in securing victory."
A word as to the private life of the Grand Duke. Ha was always spoken of as one of the most quiet and unassuming of men. Like our own Lord Kitchener, he had no particular affection for society with the capital S. His scanty leisure he devoted by preference to field sports. He could be happy, and find rest and relaxation in his stables and his kennels. Every Russian is at heart an animal-lover. The Russians alone have a special prayer for animals in war-time. The Grand Duke Nicholas, in this, as in every other respect, was a typical Russian. A keen and capable rider, his affection for the horse was only equalled by his love for dogs, and his kennels contained some of the finest Borzois in the world.
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